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ADS9: Aura – A Call for Open Architecture

Tutors: John Ng & Zsuzsa Péter, with James Kwang Ho Chung

The Open is both unbounded and precise. The Open does not mean ‘anything goes’, or a total absence of architectural elements. We have become dependent on walls to give us the ability to negotiate, share and reason with others. The idea of Openness rejects this compulsion to such familiar forms of division, destroys the power of the enclosure and wipes away historical orders. The Open challenges our reliance on architectural categories of type, context, scale, function and style in the conception of space. The Open is beautiful.   

ADS9 investigates architectures of openness. The studio is concerned with designing spaces that give distinct forms and spatial qualities to modes of co-existence. In previous years, the work focused on spatial organisation, this year we will focus on Aura and use spatial phenomena to construct space. How much physical presence do we need? How do we design Aura as a form of organisation? Or as fields of spatial mediation? How can we cultivate new forms of spatial and social relationships? 


Ungraspable, immersive and fleeting. Breathing in an immaterial architecture in a single collective gulp. Aura is a form of presence. It is tied to the phenomena of distance – the distance at which we understand presence emanating from objects, environment or people. It is a charged spatial quality that exceeds its subject. It defines the relationship between the subject and its observer, the space and its inhabitants. Aura is not restricted to a singular private experience. The studio imagines aura as an interior world of collective experience and perpetually constructed space, which might bring about a dynamic relational delight.

Carsten Nicolai, ‘syn chron’, 2005. a crystal-shaped body of synchronised play of light and sound for collective assembly.
Carsten Nicolai, ‘syn chron’, 2005. a crystal-shaped body of synchronised play of light and sound for collective assembly.

ADS9 envisions an architecture in which the barriers between a vast spectrum of scales, material physicality and spatial phenomena, artificiality and ecological matters, architectural presence and the territorial completely dissipates, producing an immaterial architecture where walls and roofs are made from senses, environment, colours, information, energy and spatial perception. For us, these are unseen materials for the construction of a new architectural language. 

In previous years, the students were challenged to reconsider our reliance on walls as the main architectural element to define space. While pursuing openness through spatial organisation and abstraction of form, the need to define relationships between space and forms of togetherness became apparent. Such a production of space requires a specific mode of engagement. In this, aura is not exclusive to its subject, nor is it accidental. Aura is incomplete – it exists as a designed dynamic relationship with the bodies of inhabitants it permeates, diffused across a continuously expanding ground. How can spatial phenomena – such as the atmospheric environment – be radicalised to define space? Our design strategy  recognises the productive ambiguity of spatial possibilities and generosity of space.

Emerging Subjectivities

ADS9 looks at the emerging ways in which we live, work, learn, play and love in the now. In particular, we are fascinated by the collective forms of co-existence that tend towards openness by constantly redefining lifestyles, traditional kinship ties and values system. In the past, students have investigated: multi-generational neighbourhoods; domesticity and communal kitchens in Cuba; the delicate balance of everyday life in war-torn Somalia; retired sun tribes, whose lives are governed by pure leisure in Lanzarote; and the production and consumption of digital idols in a contemporary Warholian Factory. This myriad of alternative means of constructing subjectivities is the context in which our architecture is grounded.

Fortnite World Cup 2019. A large living room for the merging of labour, leisure, competitive sport and consumption.
Fortnite World Cup 2019. A large living room for the merging of labour, leisure, competitive sport and consumption.

What are the socio-economic undercurrents that drive the emergence of these forms of co-existence now? How do we study these worlds reconstructing collective identities, relationships and social organisations? What can we learn from these seemingly unconventional ways of living? How can this help us to reflect on our own daily life and imagine new architectural forms? 

Architectural conventions typically generate a proliferation of individual insular spaces that each correspond to a single function. This reinforces an assumed exclusivity between categories, from the right to ownership and context, interior and the wider ecology, domesticity and world of work. The distinctions between living, labour and leisure have become increasingly impossible, however, together with deeper questions around the reproductive labour that sustains our physical, mental and affective well-being. Is it suitable – or regressive – that architecture seeks to construct space with a reliance on walls, façades, doors and locks in an era of new emerging forms of living? By contrast, can we imagine the possibility of spaces with an emancipatory character that can cultivate new kinships and intimacy?

How do we Experiment and Design?

ADS9 experiments with large-scale line drawings and models, which are spatial constructs in their own right. It is a highly iterative process that critically questions design. In 2019/20, alongside these large–scale models and prototypes, we will also experiment with the use of films and other moving imagery. We will continue to extend our collaboration to work with artists and consultants from within and outside of RCA on material exploration, with a particular focus on experiences and phenomena.

ADS9 Student Work 2019. The Garden as a House, Eleni Varnavides.
ADS9 Student Work 2019. The Garden as a House, Eleni Varnavides.

ADS9 Student Work 2018. Air as Walls for a Big Family House, Alice Foreman.
ADS9 Student Work 2018. Air as Walls for a Big Family House, Alice Foreman.

For first-year students, the design project will focus on a multi-storey urban block that fosters emerging ways of living, working, learning, playing and loving. This design will be accompanied by technical experimentation and prototyping. In ADS9, YR2 students have always pursued deeply personal subjects and obsessions in their work. The design project is open to the ambitions of our students. In response, second-year students will develop their own personal critical framework and design methodology to achieve a high level of architectural resolution.

How do we design an ‘Aura’ of openness? ADS9 has a deep commitment to space and creating architecture that is imbued with an urgent beauty. Space does not simply frame – it is inseparable in how we express, embody and enable knowledge, ideas and life. How can space and its representation capture an immaterial architecture that is spatially indeterminate? What kind of beauty and aura of openness can you imagine?


John Ng received an AA Diploma from the Architectural Association, London. John practices architecture in London and in 2011 founded the multidisciplinary practice Elsewhere, focusing on architectural competitions. Several of Elsewhere’s projects have been awarded honourable mentions and first prizes in international competitions. He has previously worked with PHASE3 Architecture and Design (2013–present), vPPR Architects (2011–13) and DSDHA (2005–9). Alongside teaching at the RCA, John has taught at the Architectural Association since 2011 on both diploma and undergraduate programmes.

Zsuzsa Péter graduated with Diploma Honours from the AA in 2018. She has previously work with CRAB studio and Farshid Moussavi Architecture.

James Kwang-Ho Chung is an architectural designer at Hopkins Architects. He previously worked for Foster + Partners and NEX Architecture in London on projects of various scales in the UK, China and Kuwait. He has lectured and taught at the AA, RCA and Leeds School of Architecture.